Wolves in the Throne Room: Black Cascade
Southern Lord (2009)
I have to admit that on some level it’s the concepts driving Wolves in the Throne Room (WITTR) that I’m attracted to more than the music they create. That and their way fucking cool name. It fascinates me that a band can take the misanthropy and general negativity of Black Metal’s façade and shape it into their own brand of mysticism. In a genre that believes itself to be about fucking the system, WITTR are one of the few Black Metal bands who actually do buck the trends instead of conforming to the scene’s stringent rules and codes.
For the uninitiated, WITTR are loosely affiliated with the eco-terrorism movement. They want humans to stop fucking the planet up and start living simpler lives. Brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver live together on a farm called Calliope in the outskirts of Olympia, Washington. They try to exist as self sufficiently and eco-consciously as possible. They maintain a very low profile, but in a rare interview Aaron spoke about being hassled by US Federal Police because of the band’s friendships with various eco-terrorists (people subsequently jailed for setting fire to McDonald’s outlets and bombing environmentally un-friendly corporations). He believes the farm’s phones have been tapped.
Whether paranoid or real, it’s fucked up and intriguing shit.
WITTR reject the nihilsm, fascism and Satanism linked to much Black Metal and indulge in the genre’s association with more pagan elements. Traditional Black Metal iconography uses imagery of ancient forests to suggest darkness and unknown horror; WITTR subvert the forest into something magical, wondrous and devine. They latch onto Black Metal’s fascination with ancient worlds as a time when Mother Nature ruled and capitalism hadn’t driven man to destroy everything in his path.
Yeah, yeah it sounds like heavy shit. But really, you can take what you want from the sound this band creates. WITTR root themselves in the straight forward riffs of early Black Metal bands like Mayhem; there’s none of the twists and turns presented by newer and weirder bands of the genre. Nathan’s raspy screeches are completely indiscernible and leave you to enjoy the surge of blackened guitars and ambient interludes, if you’re not so keen on their philosophies.
Black Cascade is their third full-length album, and their first on Southern Lord, a somewhat ‘major’ indie label. Cleaner production makes this their most accessible work to date. Their sound has always had a shoegazy appeal, but the buzz has been rinsed out leaving a warm wall of drone that’s easy on the ear (for Black Metal, anyway). What sets them apart musically from other bands in this genre, is their willingness to embrace major chord changes that relieve the oppressive atmosphere and conjure something much more grand and (here’s that word again) mystical.
Early albums featured an amazing female vocalist, a friend of the band who painted WIITR’s lengthy tunes with soaring melodies, like some wintry siren. Alas she doesn’t feature here; apparently the band wanted to create an album that was easier for them to reproduce live. I’m not sure how I feel about this change. The ambient and experimental interludes that they’ve introduced instead are interesting, but it feels like something is missing.
Black Cascade is certainly an intriguing listen, and shows that the band is committed to refining their sound. If you’re interested in Black Metal but not sure where to start, the meditative nature of this record is probably a good place to dive in. Whether or not WITTR’s philosphical spruiking adds or subtracts from the band’s noisy cauldron is something you’ll have to decide for your self.